Seminole County opened a computer lab on Monday to help residents apply for rental, utility and mortgage assistance, a recognition of the “digital divide” that exists within the region.
Located in Sanford at 520 W. Lake Mary Boulevard, the center has five stations with a computer and scanner and has staff on site to help Seminole residents submit the necessary documents to receive a slice of the federal COVID-19 relief allotted for catching up on rent or mortgage payments. The lab’s hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Cora Yon, program manager for the county’s community services department, encouraged residents to call 407-665-0000to make an appointment. The center will also take walk-ins, she said, depending on how many stations are available.
Yon said a few people had already visited the computer lab Monday morning shortly after a ceremonial ribbon cutting. She said the intention is to help residents who don’t have computers or scanners at home, aren’t computer savvy, or who need help navigating the website to apply for pandemic relief. Staff at the center can also help residents for whom English isn’t their first language or who communicate through American Sign Language.
“We can help walk them through the application itself. A lot of it is just people who don’t know how to get the documents in the system. They have a computer but not a scanner,” Yon said.
Public access to computers with reliable internet is badly needed because a deep technology divide still exists in America.
According to a nationwide survey conducted from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8 by the Pew Research Center, only 59% of adults making below $30,000 a year have a desktop or laptop at home, compared to 84% of adults who make between $30,000 and $99,999. The same survey found that only 76% of American adults in the lower-income bracket have a smartphone and only 57% have home broadband.
The center’s opening also coincided with the launch of the county’s mortgage assistance program, which will provide relief for roughly 300 households.
Seminole has allocated $1.6 million for the program that it received through the federal Community Development Block Grant. Ordinarily, the county receives about $2 million every year through the grant. During the pandemic, however, Congress provided a total of $5 billion for the program when it passed the CARES Act in March 2020.
A few hours after the program started on Monday, Yon said Seminole had received 33 applications for the program and there were another 64 being filled out. The online portal, which is available at SeminoleEMAP.com, will close once 500 applications are submitted.
Residents who meet the program’s eligibility requirements can apply for assistance to cover unpaid mortgage bills dating back to April 2020. The county will also pay an upcoming month’s mortgage payments.
For renters facing eviction, the county also has about $4 million left in unspent rental assistance after a little over $8 million was distributed among 1,255 households. Applicants can apply to get a year’s worth of rent, as well as assistance to cover future rent for three months.
To qualify for the rental or mortgage assistance programs, residents need to provide certain documents, including paperwork showing they’ve been financially hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. They must also reside in Seminole County and make below 80% of the area’s median income, which translates to $48,850 for a household of two or $61,050 for a household of four.
For more information on the county’s rental assistance program, visit www.seminolecountyfl.gov